Peacocks and Vultures

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mandawa 25th May
Our car is a small white Indicab but rather 'tardis' like as there is far more room inside than you imagine at first glance. The boot is filled with our large rucksacks and we have daysacs with us in the car along with our Sikkh driver 'happy' Singh. Happy by name and happy by nature . He speaks some English although conversation is limited to the basics. He's good company though and his standard reply to almost any comment is "Oh my God" accompanied by the flash of a big smile.

We have an electric flashing 'Shiva' on the dashboard of the car, for good luck, and judging by the standard of driving so far, we need it! It takes us 1.5 hours to get out of Delhi and onto the 'country roads'. The passing scenery is barron and sandy, one of the recurring features of which are small brick factories dotted here and there throughout the fields. Their presence given away by tall slender smoking chimneys. We can see large domes of bricks stacked up ready to be 'fired' in the traditional way ie giant bonfires. Littering the surrounding area are piles of handmade bricks some ready for delivery and others raw clay in their 'formes' waiting to be finished. The workforce seems to be made up primarily from women and young children. The roads are populated by a mixture of large heavily decorated lorries dating from the 1960's, camel / ox carts, motorbikes and the odd 'modern' car. The whole resembles the India we expected to find on our travels...Fantastic!
We stop for lunch at a little roadside cafe around 1pm and on leaving the car we are once again attacked by the staggering heat (48 degrees)Its like having a boiling blanket thrown over you while standing infront of a blast furnace!

Happy explains that the local farmers grow two main crops a year, during summertime they grow wheat and in winter (rainy season) they grow rice. It's difficult to imagine looking around at the Arrid surroundings that anything could grow let alone rice.

The drive to Mandawa is supposed to take us five hours but just after lunch we get a puncture and the main roads approaching our destination are blocked by road works. Happy has only driven to Mandawa once before and so is unsure of which route we should take. Constantly stopping to ask directions makes our progress painfully slow and the journey ends up taking us 8 hours along narrow dusty backroads.

We finally arrive in Mandawa about 5pm and enter through a battle scarred gatehouse that marks the start of the original fortified town walls. The streets inside are very narrow and along their edge are makeshift stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to saddles for camels. There are crowds of people milling around the stalls and shops that make up the towns centre, very atmospheric. Cattle wander lazily around grazing on the debris discarded by the stallholders. This is the REAL India we came to see!

We wern't sure what to expect from our accomodation but we needent have worried. It turned out to be fantastic. A one hundred year old Haveli, complete with all original features (see photos). Our room was off the inner second courtyard traditionally used by the family. A large room with ensuite bathroom. After settling in we went up to the roof terrace which gave us magnificent views of the town. The first thing we noticed was the large number of Peacocks, they were perched on rooftops and walls throughout the town and sitting in a tree right next to us were two huge Vultures!

We just had time before the sun began to set to tour the town to see some of the older and larger Havelis (some of which are still owned by the original families who had them built). These properties date back over 250 years to when the town was run by wealthy merchants. The Havelis we saw were typical examples and had ornately decorated exteriors with carved wooden shutters and stone screenwork, much of which was original. The interior courtyards were elaborately painted with colourful frescoes. Their entrances were protected by huge carved wooden gates with tiny entrance doors set into them. They all had an overwhelming air of fading grandeur. We were lucky that Our walking tour was in the early evening as a soft orange glow from the setting sun lit the entire town giving it a magical atmosphere. It wasn't difficult to get a real sense of how opulent they must have been when newly completed.

Being the only guests in our Haveli meant we had the chance to eat our dinner on the roof terrace as the sun slowly set over the town, incredible, and one of our most memorable moments in India! As night drew in the owners arranged some entertainment, this was provided by a family who for three generations had travelled the local area giving musical puppet shows. The man was the puppeteer and his wife and children provided the music..great stuff!
As we lay in our room that night we could hear singing from the nearby temple..what an introduction to our journey, and we had two more months to go...could it get any better than this, we wondered.

Next stop the desert town of Bikaner in Western Rajisthan.
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